Claire Danes thought recently about having a “big, wild adventure.”
Just what kind of insanity was she contemplating?
Moving to Brooklyn.
Not moving the needle for you on the daredevil barometer? She gets it. So maybe a little context is in order.
“I was formed here and I will end my days here,” Danes says with a self-aware flourish.
Over tea in a Greenwich Village cafe recently, Danes rattles off a guided tour of the neighborhood — the grade school around the corner, the bodega where she bought her after-school snacks and Washington Square Park, where she spent countless hours “looking at skater boys” with her friend, actress Chloe Sevigny.
“I still have a book club with my friends from when I was 5,” Dane says. “That’s the privilege of growing up in a place where people want to remain. It’s a huge gift.”
So what was the last book they read?
“Well,” Danes says, smiling, “really it’s just an excuse to hang out with my besties and eat Thai food and drink wine. But right now, I’m reading Gloria Steinem’s memoir, ‘My Life on the Road.’ We all bring in books. It’s kind of a big library.” Danes pauses and laughs. “I’ve contributed a lot of books about bipolar condition and the CIA.”
It’s a sly nod to just how much the last five years of playing Carrie Mathison, the sometimes CIA operative who manages her manic depression (some seasons better than others) while battling Islamic State terrorists, has dominated Danes’ life. (“God, I’m so happy to have monopolized her,” “Homeland” co-creator Alex Gansa says of his lead actress.)
Danes just recently stepped outside of “Homeland” for the first time, playing a ruthless, acerbic partner in a private equity firm (“another bad-ass broad,” in Danes’ words) in the off-Broadway play “Dry Powder.” That the show would be staged at the Public Theater, a short walk from the actress’ home, was a bonus. She could have dinner with Dancy and Cyrus, now 3, and then walk to work.
“She’s a strong woman, but not a seeping, open wound, like Carrie,” Danes says of her character in the play, which ended its run this month. “There’s some psychic internal crisis with her, but she doesn’t feel the weight on her shoulders. At all.”
You can hear her saying that last part, right? Danes speaks precisely, pausing often, considering her thoughts before trying them out, and when she finds one she particularly likes, she lands on it. Hard. That vocal manner, along with what she calls her “rubbery features,” the way that emotions register strongly on her face, have made the three-time Emmy winner the object of tributes online and on television, most famously when Anne Hathaway portrayed her on a “Saturday Night Live” spoof of “Homeland.”
I don’t have much of a poker face. I would be a terrible CIA officer in real life.
“I’ve never been interested or particularly good at censoring my experience,” Danes says. “So, no, I don’t have much of a poker face. I would be a terrible CIA officer in real life.”
Danes has held out hope that, one of these years, “Homeland” might ease up on the number of times that she’s required to make that “cry face.” She stresses that she’s never actually advocated for Carrie to get a little relief. And, in fact, she adds, she’s not asking for herself. She’s just looking out for her alter ego.
“I’m her buddy,” Danes says. “So I want her to not be under such constant duress, you know?”
There was actually a brief period during this last season of “Homeland” that found Carrie rested and relaxed, content to take care of her daughter with a cute new boyfriend while running security for a German foundation in Berlin. This state of circumstances, a “flicker of happiness,” Danes calls it, lasted for about 10 minutes before Carrie found herself reeled back into CIA intrigue. (“But it was a fun 10 minutes!” Danes remembers.) By season’s end, Carrie found herself dealing with survivor’s guilt and as alone as ever.
“We throw so much at her,” Gansa says, “and she has not in five years failed to deliver. Not once.”
“Homeland” usually starts filming its seasons in May. But the writers wanted more time to work on the bulk of the sixth season, which will be set in New York, so Danes won’t go back to work until August. (Look for new episodes in January.) The actress, 37, sees at least two more seasons but adds that she’s starting to give some thought as to how Carrie’s story might end. (Gansa’s dream: “Take the show back to Israel, the country from which it was born. There would be some real poetry there.”)
“Part of Carrie’s heroism is that she has not become a cynic,” Danes says. “She’s still searching for a solution, both politically and personally.” Danes sighs. “Believe me, I’m hoping she does eventually find one.”